Documenting Struggle, Inhumanity, Hope. Then Downton Abbey.

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Honor killing in Pakistan. Ebola in Liberia. Death penalty, racism, militarism and PTSD in the United States. Agent Orange birth defects in Vietnam. The Shoah.

I saw the five 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary shorts at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. Seen together, they tell a stories of systematic violence,  war, racism, poverty and resilience.

One could start with any of these movies and find connections to the others.

The cartoon Last Day of Freedom is about Manny Babbitt, a Black man executed on death row in  1999, told from the perspective of his brother.  Manny, Vietnam Vet, PTSD sufferer, was having an episode when he murdered a stranger who happened to be in the way. He receives the Purple Heart while on death row, and a military funeral after he is executed.

Chau, Beyond the Lines, is also a story about the aftershocks of the Vietnam war..

Chau, is one of several million children born with severe birth defects from Agent Orange, dropped by U.S. soldiers onto Vietnam fifty years ago.

Specter of Shoah, like Last Day, is also about traumatic stress that disorders the lives of survivors. Shoah filmmaker Lanzmann documented what it is like to relive trauma, creating the conditions that force the story and the emotions of a barber who cut the hair of women before they entered the gas chambers.

 A Girl in the River is about a young Pakistani girl whose father attempts to kill her because she chose her own husband. Like Manny in Last Day, she  is the victim of a judicial and social system that criminalizes victims and  perpetuates violence.  In both cases the individual stories illustrate the need for systemic change.

Body Team 12, is about the Ebola epidemic in Liberia from the perspective of a woman who removes the bodies from homes and neighborhoods. Ebola victims and those like Manny who suffer from war-related PTSD in the United States both face  systems that have not prioritized health care.  In both cases poverty and inequality leading to needless suffering. In both cases racism multiplies societal neglect.

Despite their heavy subjects, the movies all provide inspiration.

  • The young woman, Garmai Sumo, who works on Team 12, removing the bodies of Ebola victims, to rid her country of the epidemic.
  • The art work of Chau, who makes a beautiful life for himself.
  • The Pakistani woman who agreed to have her story told,  is pregnant at the end of the movie — hoping for a girl who she will teach to be strong.
  • Shoah is full of people-doing the painful work of not forgetting.
  •  Bill Babbitt, in Last Day of Freedom, and  Dee and Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, who draw and film his story, refuse to let Manny die in vain.

I was glad I went, but instead staying with my heavy heart and writing  inspiring thoughts (as I planned) I confess I plopped on the couch to see: would Mary and Edith marry? Thomas Barrow find acceptance? Could the family could save Mrs’ Patmore’s B & B?  Escape into a rosy  past when all were happy to know their place.  

Pure fiction.

 

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